It’s another step in the evolution of the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack volleyball program. The WolfPack have seen one of their top associate/assistant coaches snapped up by another U SPORTS rival.
Nathan Bennett has been the assistant/associate coach with both the WolfPack women’s and men’s teams over the past four and a half years. He will be realizing a dream as he takes over the reins of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s volleyball team.
“It has been a great ride,” says the native of Athabasca, Alberta. “There have been a number of great players and great people I have got to work with over my time here. I learned a lot here but I am excited about the new opportunity at Saskatchewan. Kamloops will always have a special place in my heart because I really got my start here.”
After coaching the men’s program at Capilano University and running the Volleyball Canada Centre of Excellence program in North Vancouver, BC, Bennett arrived in Kamloops and worked with both of TRU’s head coaches Pat Hennelly and Chad Grimm. He and Grimm worked exclusively with the women’s program at Thompson Rivers the past three seasons.
Grimm and Bennett were former university rivals (Grimm at UBC, Bennett at Alberta) and later teammates in Europe. “We brought different things to the table when we coached together,” he says. “That benefitted the program here. His strengths are my weaknesses and vice versa. We came along quite nicely as a team.”
When asked about what the biggest things he will take away from his experience with the TRU women’s program, “Chad has taught me more about empathy. He has taught me a lot about dealing with people who may be struggling in a positive manner.”
Grimm has mixed emotions about not working alongside his friend anymore. ‘It has been a great experience to be able to work with Nathan over the last four years. Nathan has been with me since my inaugural season and has been a driving force behind the improvement of our program. Not only did Nathan contribute to the building of our program and culture on the court but also off of it in helping run events, creating events and representing our program as a great leader for the past four years. It has been a great advantage for me to have someone of Nathan’s experience and commitment involved with our team in each of my first four seasons as a head coach in this league. Nathan has not only been a great friend to work with but provided another point of view and was willing to challenge me as a coach in ways that made me better. Nathan will be a huge loss for our program but I am super excited for him to realize his dream of being a head coach in the Canada West. He will be a great addition to the Huskie program.”
Bennett says the WolfPack women’s program has steadily improved in the past few years and modestly says it’s a direct result of recruiting efforts that the coaching staff have put in. “We brought in a lot of great people into the program. Once prospects see the caliber of the people we have here, they want to join too. When we took over, the program wasn’t in a very good place but now we’ve turned TRU into a destination where players from throughout the country want to come. Credit to Chad because he was the main person behind changing the culture and he’s done a great job of doing that.”
He adds, “The dynamic amongst the players on our team has evolved quite a lot. There is not a lot of strife anymore. The program is going in the right direction and I foresee great things for this team in the very near future.”
As he returns to coaching the men’s side of the game, Bennett admits that there is a difference. “Knowing the game, it is more physical and there is more speed with the men. The women’s game is more focused on defensive transition. In my mind, relationships are relationships. You can build good relationships with women and with men. As a coach, that is one of the biggest things is to create positive ones. The game is slightly different but building relationships is key.”
Bennett not only coached with both WolfPack volleyball teams but he also ran the McDonald’s/TRU WolfPack Sports Camps programs over the last few years. “This has been a great position. I loved working with the student/athletes we hired and seeing the kids enjoy their summer in camp. It was great meeting all the parents and working with our wonderful sponsors and people within the university.”
Bennett will be returning to Kamloops in early February with his Huskies team to take on the WolfPack. It is the second last weekend of the Canada West regular season. Ironically, both matches will be played at the TRU Gym where Bennett had his office and his Sports Camps are housed during the summer. “Last year, Sask and TRU battled for that final playoff spot. It would be great if there was a similar story line going into that February 8-9th series. It is going to be nice to come back after almost a whole season and see people who have meant so much to me and effected my life for the better.”
Not only will Thompson Rivers and the WolfPack women’s program be losing Bennett but also his wife Robbyn, who was an assistant coach and is currently employed at the university as Interim Director of Student Affairs and Manager of Accessibility Services.
Says Grimm, “Losing both Nathan and Robbyn will be a tough adjustment. In the past couple of seasons, Robbyn has been involved in more an off court role in which she provided support and insight to our student athletes. Although she wasn’t visible on the court with her full time job at TRU taking much of her time, the behind the scenes support Robbyn provided added value to our program that can’t be underestimated. To have somebody with Robbyn’s level of knowledge of the sport, combined with her level of empathy and understanding of the challenges our female student athletes face on a day to day basis was a blessing to our program.”
He went onto say, “ Both Robbyn and Nathan were uncompromising in their support of WolfPack athletics and unwavering in their willingness to go the extra mile to help in anyway necessary. Anytime you lose that level of support, it will make for some adjustment on all fronts from myself and the coaching staff, to the players and the rest of the staff at TRU that Nathan and Robbyn have worked with over the past number of years. I look forward to seeing them continue their passion in the next chapter of their lives in Saskatoon and wish them well.”
Their departure leaves former TRU player Behlul Yavasgel as the only assistant with the WolfPack women.
Thompson Rivers University Athletics and Recreation Director Curtis Atkinson says “I am disappointed to lose Nathan as a valuable member of the WolfPack but so pleased and excited for the opportunity he has at the University of Saskatchewan. The U of S has a strong athletic program and made an excellent choice by hiring him. He deserves to be a head coach at this level and will be a great addition to their department.”
He goes onto say, “We are in the business of developing people and moving them to greater opportunities-whether it be in sport, academics or careers. We often think about this in the context of student-athletes, but this is a perfect example of someone who worked hard at our institution, did the right things to put himself in a position to succeed and earned a well-deserved opportunity. I am going to miss him but am excited to see his continued growth in Canada West. While the University will miss Nathan and Robbyn, I wish them the very best and know they will enjoy great success.”